I've Stuck With Them
All of my positive experiences through middle school and high school showed me the value of adults ministering to youth. As I grew older, I couldn't help but get involved in youth ministry. During my college years and beyond, I occasionally led youth retreats and camps, where my responsibilities mostly involved chaperoning and leading small groups.
Having participated in several mission trips throughout my life, I'd developed a passion for missions— and for getting youth involved in missions. When I found out a missions agency was hiring, I looked into it. My heart sank. Every single item in the job description could've also made up the list of my specific weaknesses. My mom encouraged me to apply anyway. So, I applied and got a call back to set up a meeting. I told my interviewer about my reluctance— how I'm disorganized, late a lot, struggle to multitask, and not confident speaking in front of large groups. In reality, I didn't think I really wanted the job because I was scared. I was passionate about missions, but I didn't believe I could do this job. I was puzzled as the guy sitting across from me just had a smile grow bigger and bigger as I gave him every reason not offer me a position. When I stopped talking, he said, "Good. We have too many people who are strong in those areas. We need more people like you, who will not only bring strengths to the table that balance out others, but will be more apt to rely on God's strength." It was especially significant because, around that time for me, the Scripture that kept recurring in sermons, books, on the radio, and randomly opening up the Bible was this:
"He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I went on to work overseas for eight weeks that summer as well as on other occasional mission trips over the next five years. With God's strength, I found I was capable of more than I imagined and grew in my faith and abilities while seeing numerous others, mostly middle and high school students, do the same.
During those five years, I married Greg, who happened to be a youth pastor. Feeling a pull towards youth ministry anyway, I naturally got involved. The most comfortable role for me continued to be helping with Bible studies and small groups. However, I sometimes felt inferior. I noticed other leaders who have one-on-one coffee meetings with multiple students weekly. I was married and working full time, and struggled to find time to meet with students. I'd been able to make an effort, but not at the level I'd seen in others. I noticed other leaders with magnetic charisma, hordes of students flocking to them. I've often struggled with maintaining conversations and connecting with my own peers, let alone the wildcard, ever-evolving personalities of many teenagers. I noticed other leaders who would pray specifically for each student daily. There have been plenty of instances when I've forgotten to pray for a student. Some leaders were amazing listeners with an ability to ask lots of succinct but profound questions that draw out even the most reserved of kids. I sometimes talk too much, at the cost of allowing students to share, and I've missed the opportunity to help them come to conclusions for themselves. I noticed other leaders who encounter a student's sticky situation or crisis and have the most brilliant things to say or do to help. I've often failed to handle things in the best way.
Then I started having kids. Life got exponentially busier. If adjusting to the substantial learning curve of having a newborn wasn't enough, our firstborn developed some mystery health issues that took up a lot of care and time. Then we had another baby and moved just a few months later. On top of it all, some very high-maintenance health problems and developmental delay manifested with our second son. Still, through it all, I found myself continuing to help with youth group. The weaknesses I'd already experienced were still present, and now I showed up late, weary, and drained. I felt like I was operating at 25% capacity at most. I considered stepping down, but several things kept me going.
One is that many youth leaders tend to be either in their young 20s or middle-aged. Youth leaders who are parents of young kids are rare, I'm assuming because of the time-intensive, demanding season of life we're in. This is a significant part of life that youth group students don't get much exposure to, and I see benefits in being able to represent the realities of life in marriage and with small kids. Another big reason I pressed on was that Greg didn't have an additional backup leader for my girls and... they're my girls. I couldn't help but get to know them last year during that measly half-hour I could barely give them each Wednesday night, and though I wasn't getting to know them as much or as quickly as I wanted to, I still cared about them. Through all of life's ups and downs, I've had the privilege of seeing God work as I've stuck with the students in my life.